F20 Black Atlantic: Resources, Pedagogy, and Scholarship on the 18th Century Black Atlantic

The Black Atlantic

From the vantage point of a literature course in 2020, Paul Gilroy's classic monograph The Black Atlantic is an unsurprising text. Indeed, it is difficult to envision the period before the text was published in 1993 when no unified concept of a "Black Atlantic" culture had yet been theorized in a with such critical attention as Gilroy gives to his subject. In the 21st century, the idea of the Black Atlantic is a ubiquitous one, and Gilroy's theory has become a prominent analytical framework for understanding the literature and cultures of the African diaspora. 

Gilroy's central argument, now well-known among scholars of Africana literature, is that nationalist and ethnic paradigms of cultural history fail to adequately and accurately encapsulate the cultural formation that has resulted from mass migrations of peoples of peoples across the Atlantic Ocean during the Atlantic slave trade and the intercultural and transnational cultural interactions that it necessitated. Gilroy names this formation the Black Atlantic, arguing that it encompasses African, American, Caribbean, and British cultures in such a way that transcends the boundaries of nation and ethnic identity and produces a new and distinctly modern cultural phenomenon. Gilroy challenges the assumptions of British and American cultural studies, both of which maintain investments in absolutist nationalist and ethnocentric approaches to cultural history and criticism, and posits an understanding of the Atlantic world as "one single, complex unit of analysis" that requires "an explicitly transnational and intercultural perspective" of political, economic, and historical phenomena throughout the diaspora (15). Ultimately, Gilroy calls for a recognition of the Atlantic space as a cultural hybrid, born of intermixture and syncretism, that has defined the modern world as we know it.

I am deeply interested in Gilroy's text as one attempt to theorize cultural linkages throughout the diaspora. However, I am also interested in exploring other attempts to do the same work in ways that may extend or critique Gilroy's theory. Thus, a useful digital humanities project might be a #syllabus, bibliography, or blog that that compiles Black Atlantic theoretical texts. Such a project would include The Black Atlantic along with critical reactions to it, as well as other theories of Black Atlantic history, culture, and literature that both precede and follow Gilroy's text. This would allow scholars, students, and readers to make connections between theories developed by African, African-American, Caribbean, and Black British writers and to conceptualize a wide range of approaches to understanding cultural resonances throughout the diaspora.

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